Federer takes 50th straight on grass



By Howard Fendrich


That sign, white block letters on a dark background, stands in front of a church in Wimbledon village, about a 20-minute walk from the All England Club. Told about it, Federer appreciated the sentiment.

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“I didn’t see it,” he said. “Maybe now I’ll go have a look around.”

Federer had plenty of time for sightseeing Thursday, when he competed for all of 11 minutes. That was enough to finish off Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 6-2, 7-5, 6-1 for the Swiss star’s 50th consecutive victory on grass, in a match suspended overnight.

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    “Fifty is a great number to achieve,” Federer said. “I’m delighted about that, but I haven’t won the tournament.”

    His bid to win a fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, something only Bjorn Borg has done in the past 100 years, now runs into a tougher test: a third-round showdown Friday against former No. 1 Marat Safin, who beat qualifier Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (4).

    The 26th-seeded Russian is only 2-7 against Federer over their careers but did beat him in the 2005 Australian Open semifinals en route to one of his two major titles.

    “He’s obviously a player who can always upset anybody on any day. I hope he’s not going to have one of those crazy good days against me,” said Federer, who has a sore throat. “But I think I can pretty much control also how things are being played on grass.”

    The upsets have been kept to a minimum through the tournament’s first four days, and the four seeded men who bowed out Thursday aren’t exactly known for their prowess on grass: No. 11 Tommy Robredo, No. 17 David Ferrer, No. 24 Juan Ignacio Chela and No. 29 Agustin Calleri have made a total of two visits to Wimbledon’s third round.

    Winners included No. 2 Rafael Nadal, No. 4 Novak Djokovic, No. 9 James Blake, 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt and unseeded Wayne Arthurs, who at 36 is the oldest competitor.

    Djokovic beat Amer Delic of the United States 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), leaving Blake and No. 3 Andy Roddick as the only American men still around of the 14 who began the tournament. That matches the fewest U.S. men in Wimbledon’s third round over the past 40 years. There also were two in 1998.

    That is more than the locals can cheer for the rest of the way. Four-time semifinalist Tim Henman, the last Briton playing singles, departed with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 2-6, 6-1 loss to Feliciano Lopez of Spain. That came a few hours after Katie O’Brien, the final British woman, lost 6-0, 6-1 to No. 31 Michaella Krajicek, younger sister of 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard.

    On the way out, Henman took a shot at tennis in his country.

    “It’s depressing. But, you know, it’s reality. That’s where we’re at,” he said. “I think for years, we’ve been far too accepting of mediocrity.”

    Every so often, a tennis player comes along with a connection to Britain. One newspaper reported this week that Federer’s great-great-grandmother was born in England and hope arises of a citizenship change, a la Greg Rusedski.

    Well, Blake’s mother is English.

    “I guess I’m the closest thing to a Brit left in this tournament,” Blake said after beating Andrei Pavel of Romania 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, “so hopefully I’ll have a few fans.”

    Through two matches, Federer has faced two break points and saved both. When he and del Potro returned to Court 1 on Thursday, Federer was up 2-0 in the third set and serving at 30-all in the third game. He hit a forehand winner right away, something Federer thought was key.

    “If I wouldn’t make maybe that point, the whole match might turn out different today,” Federer said. “But I was in control right away.”